Thursday, September 25, 2008

critical reading in critical condition

The older I get, the longer it takes me to get through a stack of papers, be it for feedback or grading or both. I don't know what happened to my grad school days, when I used to rise early on a Saturday morning, drive to Uncle Jon's coffeeshop, and park myself in one of the comfy corner chairs with my vanilla chai, choc chip muffin, and stack of papers. I'd zip through 10-15 until noon. (I may be exaggerating. I seem to recall spending 20 minutes per paper in the early days, although I think by the end of my TA days, I'd gotten it down to 10. These days I'm averaging about 15) Then I'd hit whatever academic reading I was assigned for my own courses.

No mas.

I'm lucky to get through ten in a day now. A whole day, with breaks in between. Again, ten is the high point. Sometimes five is the goal.

And yet, I can get through two chapters of a book no problem. Of course, pleasure reading and critical reading are two very different cognitive functions, as I frequently tell my students. But I also tell them that reading is reading. It may be just my low-volume-high-content thing kicking in for me, the volume decreasing as my chronological age increases. It's certainly not disinterest or disdain.

What's fascinating is the disdain for reading they've developed thanks to their educational upbringing, and I don't blame them one bit. What some of them have described (and sure, they might be biased, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt), as indicated by the language they've used ("forced," "drilled," "shoved down our throats," "tortured," etc.), shows that there's a problem not only with the way students are being taught to read and about literature, but also, and more seriously, with the attitude and manner in which students are exposed to reading. I don't get on the bandwagon of blaming the teacher -- I think many of them are yearning to pass on their own passions for reading -- but something is very wrong with the system.

Ditto for writing. And again, I'm not getting on the bandwagon of "students can't even write a complete sentence" (hell, I'm willing to bet my salary that some members of Congress, from both parties, can't do it either). I'm not convinced that the problem.

I'm sorry that Kairos has become so political these last few posts. My work is spilling over onto this blog. So are the times we live in. But I'm convinced that we're in this crisis (and not just economic) not only because of greed and all the other 10-second sound-bite excuses, but because we're producing generations that are not reading and writing enough, partly because they don't know how, but more so because they don't want to. And I'm wondering what I can do to change that, if what little I'm doing now is making a difference.

On that note, I must get off my soapbox and tackle the final eight papers awaiting a grade. I'm hoping to do at least four w/in the next hour. I sure do miss Uncle Jon's vanilla chai.

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